Iowa BIG students help plan rec space at old Sinclair site

The students present 3D model of development

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids residents want a zip line park, a white-water rafting area or a sledding hill on the site of the old Sinclair meatpacking plant, according to a survey conducted by local high school students.

Students revealed the results Thursday along with preliminary designs for the abandoned site and the nearby collapsed railroad bridge south of the NewBo neighborhood in southeast Cedar Rapids. The presentation was at Geonetric, 415 12th Ave. SE.

The architecture firm Shive-Hattery in June finalized renderings of a 125-foot-tall pedestrian bridge — which would replace the railroad bridge and cross the river between the Sinclair site and Mount Trashmore, the closed landfill on the west side of the Cedar River.

The firm has since partnered with students in the initative-based high school program Iowa BIG, which is sponsored by The Gazette’s holding company Folience, to plan the space.

“We said it could be awesome,” Kellen Ochs, 16, said.

Plans for the former plant’s land haven’t been finalized, but efforts to revitalize the area are progressing, the students and their community partners said.

“As a senior in high school, I know a lot of my friends and I would love to come back to Cedar Rapids in a few years and make it even better than it was when I grew up,” said Sam McDermott, 17. “And it’s projects like these that will really help keep people involved in the community.”

Sinclair’s former site — just south of the bridge, which collapsed during the 2008 flood — is also slated to be used as a flood basin.

That could help offset the cost of the project, said Dale Todd of the Southside Investment Board, which supports the area’s revitalization.

The estimated cost for the project, which Todd said does not factor in flood protection dollars, is $9.7 million.

“We’ve been told by many of our stakeholders that the cost for this project is very doable,” Todd said. “We think it’s very achievable.”

Steve Sovern, also from the Southside Investment Board, said he’s met with businesses and other stakeholders and has received “virtually unanimous buy-in.” “I have people coming up to me — where do I write a check?” Sovern said. “We hope to have an answer to that soon.”

The students’ rendering included a scale model of the walking bridge, dubbed the “Sleeping Giant,” which would act as the midpoint of a trail system that reaches from Iowa City to Cedar Falls.

“It’s called the Sleeping Giant because of its massive potential to become a major tourist destination, recreational area in Cedar Rapids,” Anna Kolln, 17, said during the students’ presentation. “ ... I think a lot of us chose (to work on) this project because we wanted to have a lasting impact on the community. This hopefully someday will become a real thing.”

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